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Article posted: 4/26/2013 6:00 AM

Lake Forest native's play pays homage to literary titans


A clash between literary titans inspired Lake Forest native Adam Pasen to write the tranquilly titled "Tea With Edie and Fitz," making its Chicago premiere.

"Edie" and "Fitz" are Edith Wharton and F. Scott Fitzgerald, two of Pasen's favorite writers. The play, staged by the Dead Writers Theatre Collective, starts previews Friday at the Greenhouse Theater Center.

It's the 29-year-old writer's first full-length professional production.

"The inspiration is rooted in my love of the two central figures," Pasen said. "When I found out they had this notorious meeting and never talked to each other again, I was intrigued and had to write a play about it."

The meeting took place in Paris in 1925, a time when poets, musicians and writers such as Wharton and Fitzgerald were at the top of the American celebrity A-list. Wharton, the older of the two, had recently won the Pulitzer Prize for her book "The Age of Innocence," and Fitzgerald was writing a little novel called "The Great Gatsby."

Pasen said part of the reason why he likes Fitzgerald so much was because of their shared history with his hometown.

"Lake Forest has a deep connection to F. Scott Fitzgerald, which was a big reason I decided to write a play about him," said Pasen, who explained Fitzgerald visited Lake Forest often to see his girlfriend, socialite Ginevra King. "Years later (Fitzgerald) would quote, 'Once I thought that Lake Forest was the most glamorous place in the world. Maybe it was.'"

Getting the play from Pasen's pen to the professional stage has been a group effort. He credits the play's director, Jim Schneider, with letting him contribute beyond the writer's room.

Schneider, co-founder of Dead Writers Theatre Collective, said he was always taught to value the writer's contribution above all else.

"The playwright is the primary artist," Schneider said. "A good director, you will never see their brush strokes."

Pasen has spent the last few weeks with Schneider, the cast and crew at their facility in Niles where he consults on creative decisions, including changing lines.

By the time the curtain rises for the first time, the play will have been finalized for weeks.

"Left to my own devices, I would rewrite until we closed the show," Pasen said with a laugh.

Though this is Pasen's first full-length play, Pasen has received accolades for shorter works, winning the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Ten-Minute Play Award last year while he was a doctoral student at Western Michigan University.

As for "Tea With Edie and Fitz," a few pop-culture coincidences that Pasen called a "PR boon" have helped add relevancy to a play about a pair of long-dead authors.

Wharton's novel "The Custom of the Country," for example, helped inspire PBS' popular "Downton Abbey." And shortly after "Tea With Edie and Fitz" opens, Baz Luhrmann's film adaptation of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" will hit theaters with Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role.

"Any audience who comes to see the play will be able to appreciate the movie so much more because they get to understand what Fitzgerald was like when he was writing the book," Pasen said.

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